No, I’m Not An Eagle Scout, or What I Learned From the Boy Scouts of America

No, I’m not an Eagle Scout. Whenever somebody asks me about my Scouting career, that is always one of the first questions. “Did you make Eagle Scout?” My answer is no, I did not. Through a convergence of many factors, including my education career and my own personal choices, I never earned the Eagle rank. And if I may be blunt, I’m tired of saying that. The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) have had by one estimate 104 million members in the 105 years it has existed. 2.7 million of those earned the Eagle rank. They do have one thing in common with the other 101 million members though. They all, Eagle, Life, or mere Tenderfoot Scouts, share one primary, central characteristic: They were Scouts, and Scouting is far more than a rank or a badge.

“A Scout is Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean and Reverent.” Sixteen words that 104 million people have internalized. Sixteen words that have defined a movement. The Scout Law, along with the Oath, define what Scouting teaches to its members. It teaches them how to be upstanding citizens, without prejudice or negativity, how to be self-reliant and team player. Scouting builds capable, effective, mature adults with leadership skills and personal discipline and confidence. These are the things that Scouting has taught me.

One of the first things a Scout learns, one of the most classic, is how to tie a series of knots. From the square knot, used to tie two pieces of robe together, to the tautline and two half hitches, used to hold up tarps and screens, to the lashing techniques used in backcountry construction, when your only materials are rope and branches. From the bowline (pronounced “bolun”) used as a rescue knot, to the Turk’s Head Woggle, a show knot that makes a great accent to a necktie. Knots are the most fundamental representation of the suite of abilities Scouting gives its youth. Knots are useful in any situation, whether to spice up your attire for a formal occasion, or build a stretcher quickly to evacuate a wounded friend from a dangerous situation. During National Youth Leadership Training, participants are given seven staves and rope; they build hand-powered catapults (with impressive range and loft). Knots allow a person to be confident in their ability to take materials before them and create something good, or even just something cool.

This even extends beyond the practical applications of Scouting. Knots, like Scouting, are a way to reach out to people, and help them. I am a member of a Venture Crew, Crew 43 (or C43 for short) out of Johns Creek United Methodist Church to be specific. Venturing is a joint endeavor of the BSA and the Girl Scouts of America, allowing young people 14-21 of either gender to experience a high-octane version of Scouting, focused on high adventure and pure, unfiltered fun. On one of our first campouts, there were only a few of us, two girls, four guys and two adults, participating in a multi-unit outing. The first night there, we had to set up a tarp to cook under. As I was tying off one corner of the tarp, one of the girls came over to me and said, “That’s a cool knot! Can you teach me how to tie it?” That young lady I am still good friends with today, but the knot allowed me to reach out to someone else, to teach them some of the skills of Scouting, and give them some of the unique self confidence only practiced, useful skill can give a person.

Scouting showed me a world beyond my own door, beyond my own school. I went to a private Catholic high school, and while a tight-knit class comes with its advantages, we were in something of a bubble. Scouting showed me much of the world beyond that. For example, my home troop, Troop 2000 (known affectionately as T2K), hosted by Johns Creek Presbyterian Church, literally across the street from Crew 43, is an incredibly diverse unit. We run the gamut, of ages, races, religious beliefs, and socioeconomic backgrounds. The same applies to Crew 43. We have everything from agnostic and Christian to Hindi and Buddhist Scouts, white, Asian, black, and many more besides. I went to the National Jamboree in 2010, and spent a couple days with a patrol of Scouts visiting from Saudi Arabia. Scouting, both the Boy Scouts of America, and the World Scouting Movement, knows no borders, and go to great efforts to expose their members to people just like them, but from all over the amazing breadth of the human experience.

Once Scouting introduced me to all of these people, it taught me how to lead them, the right way, with servant leadership. I am incredibly grateful for the experiences I have had, both within Troop 2000 and through National Youth Leadership Training, both as a participant and as a staff member, where I was taught how to take disparate people, with different experiences, thought processes and ideas, and form cohesive, functioning, high-performing teams that accomplish anything they set out to do. It showed me the virtues of the servant leader, the person who puts their team ahead of him/herself, whose goals are the team’s, everyone else’s and then his/hers, in that order. Scouting taught me how to communicate effectively, and thanks to my NYLT experiences, presentations and public speaking are familiar friends to me. I learned how critical the ability to listen was, and how to act decisively in critical situations. I learned how to handle life’s myriad situations, both good, bad, or neither.

Scouting showed me the value of camaraderie. The experiences Scouting gives its participants span far beyond mere distance and time; they touch and change lives every day. I had the privilege of attending a trek at Philmont Scout Ranch in summer of 2013. We were on the trail for a total of twelve days, in some of the most beautiful, untouched landscape in the world. I remember everyone I went with, all the experiences we had, and I will never forget any of it. The same can be said of so many other outings, the inaugural C43 whitewater rafting trip, the 2010 Centennial Jamboree, Week 3 Blue of NYLT 2010, my Order of the Arrow Ordeal (on my birthday I might add) with dear friends, of countless T2K and C43 outings the world over, too numerous to count or name, too great to forget. Scouting showed me the value of the human bond, of how important, of how powerful friendship, shared skills and experiences can be and what they can do for people. In short, Scouting showed me how to influence lives for the better.

These are things that Scouting teaches that surpass rank or age. They go far beyond even branches of Scouting, Boy Scouts, Venturers, Sea Scouts, Varsity Scouts, et al. These are things no Scout, and most certainly not our National Organization or its affiliates can afford to forget. I am fortunate enough to live in a Council with a fairly high Eagle rate, and many of the best Scouts I know are Eagles. I know many more who will never make Eagle, or by not being Boy Scouts, will never have that chance to earn that rank. These young men and women, along with all the Scouts not there yet, or forever never there, Scouting and the world cannot afford to forget about. I know Sea Scouts and Venturers who would be far better members of the Order of the Arrow, Scouting’s National Honor Society equivalent, than I ever could be, and never will be, because of the Order’s recruitment rules. Different people will integrate into Scouting in different ways, and take away different things from everybody else. We would do well to remember that. We should not forget, or cease to acknowledge the incredible achievement of the Eagle rank, or the Venturer Ranger Award, but Scouting is far more than a rank or an award. It is an experience and it is a way of life that changes everyone it touches. Let’s acknowledge it for what it is, and the good it does. Ask if the Scouts you know are Eagles, but don’t forget how much else they know how to do, or the things that they’ve experienced. There’s no award for finding lifelong passion, or being able to remember how to tie a cool knot. There is the lifestyle, the personality, the character of a Scout. Talk to us about that. We love it, and we’d love to show you more.

As always, thanks for reading and feel free to comment below – GP

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